Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

October 14, 2009

BOEHNER'S UNDERSTANDING OF 'IMMUTABLE CHARACTERISTICS'.... Last week, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that he would oppose a military spending bill because it included a provision to expand hate-crime protections.

"All violent crimes should be prosecuted vigorously, no matter what the circumstance," Boehner argued. "The Democrats' 'thought crimes' legislation, however, places a higher value on some lives than others. Republicans believe that all lives are created equal, and should be defended with equal vigilance."

There's at least some consistency to the argument. If a bigot violently attacks a victim, Boehner doesn't care if hatred motivated the crime. It's a debatable point, but it's not a ridiculous position.

That is, until one digs a little deeper. CBS News, responding to Boehner's comment, inquired as to whether the Minority Leader opposes all hate-crime laws, including the ones already on the books that offer protections based on race, color, religion, and national origin. After all, if Boehner doesn't want to consider the circumstances behind a violent crime, and doesn't want to pursue "thought crimes," then he'd necessarily reject the rationale behind every hate-crime law, right? Wrong.

In an email, Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said Boehner "supports existing federal protections (based on race, religion, gender, etc) based on immutable characteristics."

It should be noted that the current law does not include gender, though the expanded legislation would cover gender as well as sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

"He does not support adding sexual orientation to the list of protected classes," Smith continued.

Boehner's position, then, appears to be grounded in the notion that immutable characteristics should be protected under hate crimes laws. And while religion is an immutable characteristic, his office suggests, sexual orientation is not.

So much for consistency. Religion is immutable? The word means, "Not subject or susceptible to change." In other words, an immutable personal characteristic is one a person is born with and cannot alter.

No one is born with a faith tradition, and people convert to different faiths all the time, sometimes more than once. Sexual orientation, on the other hand, is genetic. And even if Boehner were to deny this, immutability still doesn't make any sense as a legal standard since people can and do change their religious beliefs.

The Minority Leader could just acknowledge he doesn't like gay people. It'd be easier than coming up with bizarre rationales like this one.

Steve Benen 8:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Everybody agrees that it is a well known 'fact' that politicians are MUCH to busy to actually use their brains for "thinking". . .

Posted by: DAY on October 14, 2009 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

How dumb that guy is.

But you don't have to go to hate crimes to get to 'thoughts' adding penalties for the same behavior. I believe quite a few crimes consider the mental state of the perpetrator.

If not, what does the "premeditated" in "premeditated murder" mean?

Posted by: riffle on October 14, 2009 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

This may be a little off topic , but it seems to me preemptive war to contain a possible threat places the honorable gentleman in a bit of a rhetorical flummox .

Posted by: FRP on October 14, 2009 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

Ahhh , with a second reading it is just more word salad from the chefs at think tank general , a restaurant that serves a menu of no .

Posted by: FRP on October 14, 2009 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

Although I'm as liberal/progressive as most people who are fans of this blog, I do have a few 'conservative' perspectives, and I have to admit that I also believe that there shouldn't be a distinction between crimes based on 'hate', versus the same crime without a hate element. I believe that people are entitled to their prejudices, no matter how odious... they simply can't act on those prejudices. When they do, the crime they commit is the one they should be punished for... not for their prejudices.

Unlike Boehner, I'm at least consistent on this point: I think it applies to all crimes, and all prejudices.

Posted by: Norm on October 14, 2009 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

Sexual orientation, on the other hand, is genetic

I wasn't aware of this. Does this mean that if your parent is gay, you are more likely to be gay? I missed those studies.

I thought we didn't know why people were gay.

Posted by: DR on October 14, 2009 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

Playing to the crowd, nothing more or less.

Boner knows that the Bubbas most likely to vote Republican hate teh gay. Can't call out the home team for cheap shots, can he?

And I would be willing to bet that he would gladly change that religion bit to protecting Christians ( providing they're the right type) if possible.

No shame, no principles, no sense of irony, no brains, no science, no mercy, no class, Boner & Co. are really the party of NO.

And every Democrat should pronounce his name as Bone-er as long as the Republicans insist on saying the Democrat party. Or at least point out how stupid they sound after they say it.

Posted by: BuzzMon on October 14, 2009 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

Norm, I wouldn't give the conservatives credit by saying that yours is a "conservative" position. There has long been a strain of the Progressive movement that are full-on civil libertarians (think ACLU) who are essentially First Amendment absolutists and who believe (since the evidence for the 'hate' increment almost always involves speech) that hate crimes enhancements separately punish speech in an impermissible way.

Republicans, on the other hand, are all too happy to censor and punish speech they don't like (anti-Bush t-shirts at W's events, for example), so their view on this cannot credibly be tied to their support for freedom of speech.

Lets not give the Right credit for anything beyond homophobia. While the hate crimes issue is one Progressives often strongly disagree on (and I used to hear these intra-family debates all the time back on campus), your position is defensible from the left.

Posted by: zeitgeist on October 14, 2009 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

Norm, I think you have a solid point. Steve even says the position is legitimate. The problem for Boehner is that he is hopelessly inconsistent.

For me the principal reason for hate crimes legislation at the Federal level is to make sure criminals are punished in states where prejudice often trumps the local justice system. For example there is no plain old Federal crime of murder. When somebody is tried for murder by the Feds there is always a Federal crime tie in. Hate crime statutes allow the Feds to act.

Posted by: Ron Byers on October 14, 2009 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

Evangelical Christians, one of the major groups Boehner relies on to continue his power, base their faith on proselytization and conversion, the idea that everyone can and should convert to their religion. Immutable characteristics? They live for mutability, as long as it's in their direction. Unfortunately for them, society has been mutating in the other direction lately.

Posted by: ericfree on October 14, 2009 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the good senator is some kind of Calvinist who believes that faith in Jesus is a gift that God bestows on His chosen few. According to that theology, religion might be considered "immutable"....

Posted by: Seth Gordon on October 14, 2009 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

I doubt that Boehner actually thinks that religion is an immutable trait. He's busy pitching the "you choose to be gay" crap and hopes no one will notice that religion's on the list.

The GOP's in a precarious position on that one, anyway, since they're convinced Christians are persecuted and discriminated against, but can't be discovered ever fighting religious discrimination against pretty much anybody who's not Christian or Jewish. Everybody from Muslims to pagans to Wiccans can get bent.

Posted by: shortstop on October 14, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

@DR

The "sexual orientation is genetic" comment jumped out at me too. Not that it matters for the post - Boehner is a hypocrite looking to justify his support of homophobic legislation - but sexual orientation is not genetic. There may be a genetic aspect to same-sex desire but that desire is not the same as sexual orientation, which is a decidedly social construct.

Posted by: greg on October 14, 2009 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

"Sexual orientation, on the other hand, is genetic"

I wasn't aware of this. Does this mean that if your parent is gay, you are more likely to be gay? I missed those studies.

Somebody needs to repeat sixth-grade science class.

Posted by: shortstop on October 14, 2009 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

The people who understand the meaning of the word "immutable" are not the people who will vote for Boehner.


And an aside to DR: he said "genetic," not "hereditary." Although the two words share a context, they have distinct meanings. A genetic basis for same-sex preference has been detected.

Posted by: TG on October 14, 2009 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

I generally oppose hate-crimes legislation; to the extent to which society is a secondary victim of violent crimes intended to intimidate or express hatred towards minorities, I'd prefer to see them treated like all other forms of terrorism.

Posted by: Damiani on October 14, 2009 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

Whateva !!!
If Obama hated gay people, Boehner would love them.

Boehner (pronounce boner) doesn't have a lick of shame in his pigmently enhanced body. He will take whatever position is politically feasible.

Posted by: ScottW on October 14, 2009 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

He must mean that religion is immutable in the sense that born-agains don't have a Mute button.

Posted by: N.Wells on October 14, 2009 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

TG at 9:41 I guaran-damn-tee that Boner doesn't have the foggiest notion of what immutable means either.

Posted by: Gandalf on October 14, 2009 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

Sexual orientation, on the other hand, is genetic-Benen

I wasn't aware of this. Does this mean that if your parent is gay, you are more likely to be gay? I missed those studies.-DR

Many years ago, I remember watching a program about research on mice that looked at genes responsible for sexual orientation. I believe the researchers were able to increase the likelihood of sexual orientation by manipulating those genes. They also conducted tests on the mice's brains postmortem by slicing them in razor thin sections and found that the brains of homosexually oriented mice resembled those of the opposite sex rather than their physical sex.

Also, from
http://www.libertyeducationforum.org/IsItaChoiceTheScienceofSexualOrientation.htm :

Genetic Evidence—The best evidence right now is that genetics play a significant but not determinative role in sexual orientation, and in this respect, it is similar to many traits affecting a minority of the population. Sexual orientation, as a trait, is similar to being left or right-handed; the genetic influence on both traits is estimated at less than 50%; and both seem to be established at an early age or before birth.

Hormonal Influences—There is evidence that hormonal influences in the mother’s womb affect the sexual orientation of a child. One researcher finds a prenatal origin to sexual orientation. To put it simply, something was happening in the wombs of the mothers he studied to influence the sexual orientation of their later sons.

Posted by: hopeful on October 14, 2009 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

shortstop: Thanks, that explained everything. Are you implying that gays are a result of a mutation of a gene?

TG: A genetic basis has been detected? You mean they identified the gay gene? I know some scientists think so, but it certainly isn't a fact as presented in this blog post.

Posted by: DR on October 14, 2009 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

hopeful,
Thank you for the intelligent and informative response. From everything that I have seen, they have not shown conclusively that people are gay because of genetics, although there is evidence that implies this is the case. I think it makes sense that it would be a combination of genetics and environmental conditions.

However, you could also say that religion is a combination of genetics and environmental conditions. For example, some people are more likely to be drawn to cults based on their personalities.

Either way, it is a stretch to say "Sexual orientation is genetic" at this point in time. However, it would not be a stretch to say it is immutable, or "Not subject or susceptible to change". We can say that without exploring the scientific origin of homosexuality.

Posted by: DR on October 14, 2009 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

I remember that as an issue back in the 90's, when religious people thought it was perfectly acceptable to discriminate against gay people by refusing to allow them to rent housing based solely on their sexual orientation. But they insisted that you couldn't discriminate against someone for their religious orientation.

And I had discussions with several different people who insisted that sexual orientation was a choice, but religion wasn't. Essentially, you could choose to stop sinning, but you couldn't choose to deny your salvation. That's the "logic" behind this.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on October 14, 2009 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

"The Democrats' 'thought crimes' legislation, however, places a higher value on some lives than others. Republicans believe that all lives are created equal, and should be defended with equal vigilance."

Well, no it doesn't. Here's the hate law bill from 1994:

"race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person."

The implication by Boehner is that if a white male is a victim of a crime, he doesn't get the same protection as a gay Asian man.

But, that's not the case. If a white male has been shown to be attacked because of his race or his sexual orientation, he'll receive the same protection as a gay Asian man who's been shown to be attacked because of his race or sexual orientation.

And since Boehner is against "thought crime" legislation, I guess we can just strike the word "intent" from all legal dictionaries.

Posted by: Tom on October 14, 2009 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

And an aside to DR: he said "genetic," not "hereditary." Although the two words share a context, they have distinct meanings. A genetic basis for same-sex preference has been detected. - TG

I don't think the statement of his spokesperson is salvageable in any way that would be acceptable to Boehner. Cause you know, according to Republicans orthodoxy sexual orientation is a matter of free choice, and if you make the 'unnatural' choice, you're sick. Fortunately though, it's curable. Ted Haggart has proven that.

Posted by: SRW1 on October 14, 2009 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Does this mean that if your parent is gay, you are more likely to be gay?

Studies of identical twins have shown that there is a genetic component to homosexuality. This has been known since at least the mid-1980s. Maybe you should keep up on the science.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on October 14, 2009 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

DR: However, you could also say that religion is a combination of genetics and environmental conditions. For example, some people are more likely to be drawn to cults based on their personalities.

But if true, that would mean that being religious is partially genetic, not that religion is genetic. The equivalent would be to say that having a sexual drive is genetic, but that orientation isn't. I suppose someone could commit a crime out of prejudice against all religious people rather than because of someone's particular religion, but it seems unlikely, and that certainly isn't what the law is about.

Posted by: Redshift on October 14, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

I'm wondering why "gender" isn't something you are concerned about. I mean, that really IS genetic, no question about it (XY, XX, etc), and while it's slightly mutable (you can have reassignment surgery), it's nearly as immutable as race, and far, far more than religion.

And women are more likely to be the victims of hate crimes than, say, Baptists. Think of the serial murderers who specifically target certain groups of women. (Green River, Boston Strangler)

I think sexual orientation should be in there, but I also think it's significant that Boehner apparently hasn't noticed the violence AGAINST women that is pervasive in this culture.

Posted by: Antial on October 14, 2009 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Don't call sexual orientiation "genetic". Nobody knows that. Call it "innate". We do know that. A trait can be innate without having a genetic basis.

Posted by: BongoBob on October 14, 2009 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Mnemosyne,
Not to beat a dead horse, but that really doesn't show what you think it shows. One of the things that is being investigated is whether something that happens in the womb causes people to be gay. That could very well be the case for this study. And when you read the study, it says "biological basis", not "genetic basis".

So, in conclusion, Steve Benen should really have worded it "is biological", not "is genetic".

Posted by: DR on October 14, 2009 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

So what are all those missionaries doing?

Posted by: Mike on October 14, 2009 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

I think the pervious post's headline, Rock Salt Stupidity, could apply as well to this posting. Really. A very versatile header to keep in reserve whenever discussing the Republicans, it seems to me.

Posted by: sparrow on October 14, 2009 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

The previous posting's header, Rock-Salt Stupidity, could apply equally as well to this one. Really, it's a very versatile header to keep in reserve whenever discussing Republicans.

Posted by: sparrow on October 14, 2009 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

If Boehner could be considered credible it would be refreshing to have someone oppose military spending. The money saved could be used to pay public option health care. Close the 800 world wide military bases and more money would be available for public option. Single payer is the way to go. Use the insurance for what M'care does not pay. The insurance companies would hve to accept less profits but Americans would be happy with equitable medical care.

Posted by: MLJohnston on October 14, 2009 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK
No one is born with a faith tradition, and people convert to different faiths all the time, sometimes more than once. Sexual orientation, on the other hand, is genetic.

Sexual orientation seems pretty clearly to have some genetic component, and seems even more clearly to be largely biological determined prior to birth (which isn't the same thing as being "genetic", as others have discussed above) and highly resistant to change. I don't think the evidence is there to claim it is completely genetic and not at all influenced by environmental factors, or even that it is completely determined prior to birth (or even maturity) and completely immutable after that point.

Its certainly less likely to change than religious affiliation, and less subject to personal choice, though.

Posted by: cmdicely on October 14, 2009 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

It isn't about the 'value of the life', it's about the 'value' of the crime.

If you kill somebody in the course of a robbery it's treated differently in law than if you kill somebody in self defense or in a jealous rage. These different circumstances affect how the act is understood in court.

Just as someone committing a robbery doesn't necessarily intend to kill anyone, but does anyway, a murder that couldn't have occurred if he hadn't gone ahead with the robbery, killing someone ought of a motivation of a cultivated hatred wouldn't have happened without the cultivation of hatred --the hatred is the specific circumstance.

Posted by: cld on October 14, 2009 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Just to add to the biology discussion there is some evidence that direction of sexual desire is more fluid in women than men. So if you're arguing about the biological basis of sexual orientation you also have to be more specific about whose orientation is being discussed.

And "gender" is not a synonym for "sex." Gender is the socially understood role that is attributed to each sex. Sex is immutable, barring surgical reassignment, but gender is not, and in fact our gender-based expectations are pretty much constantly in flux.

Posted by: Nothing But the Ruth on October 14, 2009 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

SB:
The Minority Leader could just acknowledge he doesn't like gay people. It'd be easier than coming up with bizarre rationales like this one.

Easier, yes, but nowhere near as amusing.

Mike:
So what are all those missionaries doing?

The missionary position, obviously.

-Z

Posted by: Zorro on October 14, 2009 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

First, I understand why some might be concerned by free-speech implications of punishing someone more severely if their previous statements and writings indicate they were motivated by bigotry. Nevertheless, since they have to commit a crime, and generally one of violence, it is not the speech that is being punished.

Two quick points in favor treating hate crimes more severely than the same crime without the hate component. First, someone motivated by bigotry is probably more likely to reoffend -- they feel justified in their anger, hatred and violence and only occassionally does the outcome of the attack cause them to seriously reconsider their views. Second, hate crimes are frequently a form of terrorism -- sometimes they are an immediate reaction to an unreasoning sense of disgust on the part of the attacker, but frequently there are specifically intended to send a message to everyone else in the same minority as the victim that they could be next.

Finally, one of the unstated objections many opponents of hate-crime legislation have is that the laws usually include reporting requirements for state and local LEOs that are intended to determnine how many bigotry-related crimes are committed. It is bad for the election prospects of those who seek out the votes of the bigotted if it is documented for the public at large just how many bigots there are and how much violence they commit.

Posted by: tanstaafl on October 14, 2009 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly